Human rights defenders continue to be killed in Guatemala


Environmental human rights defenders in Guatemala continue to work in a dangerous environment. On 12th November, Jeremy Abraham Barrios Lima, an activist with environmental and indigenous rights organisation CALAS, was murdered. Through his work, Barrios Lima had access to sensitive information on mining and hydroelectric projects. None of Mr. Barrios Lima's personal belongings were stolen, indicating that his murder was probably linked to his work. Amnesty International launched a campaign to demand the Guatemalan government bring the perpetrators to justice and issue a protection policy for other activists in the country. 

Three days earlier on 9th November, union leader Eliseo Villatoro was killed. He was a member of the Union of Municipal Employees of Tiquisate, Escuintla (SEMOT) and his murder took place in the context of a conflict between the union and the Tiquisate Municipality. His death followed a year-long battle over the non payment of salaries.

Also in early November, an international civil society observation mission deployed in the border area between Guatemala and Mexico concluded that there is systematic repression against communities trying to protect their land against mining and energy projects. The mission, organised by the Migration and Gender Transnational Bureau (MTMG), heard from more than 70 groups and approximately 1,600 people affected by deprivation, violence against migrants and refugees and gender-based violence.

On 10th December, the diplomatic missions of various European countries, plus those of Canada and the United States, recognised the Guatemalan government’s efforts to protect human rights activists, while also expressing concern over the routine criminalisation and attacks against human rights defenders in the country. Similar concerns were also expressed by Guatemala's Human Rights Prosecutor. In turn, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Guatemala viewed as 'a positive step that the government of Guatemala has expressed its willingness to initiate consultations with civil socieity for the creation of a policy to protect human rights defenders and women human rights defenders, in accordance with the recommendations of the universal and regional system of human rights protection.'


On 6th November, journalist Hamilton Hernández was murdered along with his wife. Their bodies were found on the side of a road in Coatepeque. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed concern over the murder and urged the Guatemalan government to take the appropriate measures to stop violence and harassment against journalists.There were no known threats against Hernández and the investigation is still trying to determine if his murder was connected to his work as a journalist.

In a statement released on 21st November, the Inter-American Press Association expressed concern over the vilification of journalists in Guatemala. Specifically, the statement refers to the cases of Juan Luis Font - who is being accused of participating in the murder of a former Minister - and of Rolando Archila, who is accused of illegally buying private TV channels. Both are associated with Contrapoder magazine.

In November, the Center for Informative Reports on Guatemala (CERIGUA), a local civil society organisation, released a report on the situation of freedom of expression in the country. According to the report, 56 free expression violations were recorded between January and October 2016. These included 12 threats, nine murders, nine cases of intimidation and seven instances of censorship. During the same period, the Office against Crimes against Journalists received 86 reports.